We’ve Made Landfall

By Alison Ballance

An expedition team is currently on the Antipodes Islands. It includes builders and scientists who will follow up on work done during the last expedition in August. Alison Ballance will be updating the blog from the Antipodes Islands.

We made it ashore. Said like that it sounds easy, but believe me, it was not. Getting 10 people and quite a few tonnes of gear ashore on Antipodes Island was a mission and a half.  Fortunately we had a perfect weather window for the job, which happened in two stages.

On Saturday the building team of Cullum, Andy, Mark and Geoff, with Dan as keen labourer, were dropped on the reef platform in front of the hut, along with their personal packs and a small amount of essential tools. There was still a reasonable swell, which is why we didn’t attempt to land everyone, but although the boys managed to dodge the big set waves surging over part of the platform, it didn’t stop several of them becoming members of the Antipodes Island swim club (more on the other swim club member in the next blog). The reef platform is slippery, and intersected by several deep guts, and Cullum – in attempting to jump across one gut – slipped into it just as a wave surged up. Mark, meanwhile, running to help, found a chest-high water-filled hole just large enough to hold one person. In he went.  End result: two wet builders, but Cullum gamely held onto the tools, so nothing was lost. After picking their way through the erect-crested penguin colony, up the ladder and across the tussock to the hut they set to the task of cutting peat to make drainage channels, pile holes and room for a small hut extension, and they also rigged the derrick which sits above the hut cove landing, ready for the major landing exercise on Sunday.

The weather on Saturday was calm but with cloud almost to sea level, but Sunday dawned with blue skies and sunshine. The sea was calm enough for a landing, although some of the large set waves rolling into hut cove would end up wetting everyone on the beach, especially Dan and Mark who were wearing chest high waders and had the job of wading out to the inflatable to ferry gear ashore. The winter expedition had perfected a system of an anchor in the mouth of the cover and a rope running ashore so the inflatable could be hauled backwards towards the shore and held in position while it was unloaded, and this worked well. The steep rocky beach was made slightly treacherous by big hanks of slippery bull kelp, and the best dry territory at the top of the beach was thoroughly claimed by a bull elephant seal, a herd of females and seven new-born pups.  So, as we unloaded the gear we piled it up as far as we could out of the reach of the waves yet without encroaching on the slightly baffled elephant seals, and while the inflatable returned to Evohe for the next load we ferried everything along the beach closer to the loading zone for the net.

We had a boat-load of fish bins, one of large sealed buckets, another of packs and lots of power tools, one of fuel for the generator and 200 litres of drinking water. Luckily we were spared the kitchen sink as the winter expedition had already brought that ashore (thanks guys!).

Getting everything on the beach was just the beginning – then we had to haul everything up the cliff. A rope ran from the derrick on top of the cliff, and was tied off around a large boulder at the far end of the beach, creating a large flying fox. Mark and Dan loaded the net at the bottom, then Cullum, Andy and Geoff heroically pulled it up. We eventually got everything up to the hut by 2pm or so, and then, after a very well earned lunch break, the building team went back to building and digging, while Jo and Kathryn quarantined all the food and sorted into a rough semblance of order, and Denise, Alison and Brian leveled some camp sites in the debris of the large slip and erected four tents, using large wooden pegs to ensure they won’t blow away. We commented more than once how lucky we were with the weather!

As I write this on Monday it is a howling gale, it is raining, the hut has no floor and looks like a building site, there are buckets and fish bins everywhere amongst the tussock in front of the hut, Jo and Kathryn have cleaned out the small water tank that had had dead mice floating in it and we are hoping the rain will flush salt off the roof of the castaway depot so we can start collecting rain water for drinking and cooking.